Crash probe hints at engine failure

Investigators probing the crash of a jetliner in northern Indonesia have said engine failure could be to blame for the disaster which killed at least 150 people.

    Monday's crash took place in a residential section of Medan

    However, they stressed it was too early to reach a conclusion about Monday's crash of a Mandala Airlines Boeing 737-200 in the city of Medan, and that analysis of the "black box" flight recorders could take some time.

    "No conclusion can be drawn yet. We are still conducting the investigation," Setyo Rahardjo, head of the National Transportation Safety Committee team in Medan, said on Wednesday.

    He said his team had found indications of engine damage.

    "We found that the fan blade engine was in a damaged condition," he said, adding that problems had also been found with three "screw jack actuators" on a wing and a flap.

    Rahardjo said the pilot had not reported any problems before take-off in his exchanges with the control tower.

    The exchanges "showed that everything was fine, visibility was at more than 4000, clouds were fine, the weather clear and the aircraft fine. There were no words about any engine problem," he said.

    Mass burial

    While hundreds took part on Wednesday in a mass burial for the unidentified victims of the crash, the parents of a five-year-old boy who had been given up for dead, were quietly celebrating after the child was found alive in a hospital.

    Hundreds participated in a mass
    burial for unidentified victims

    "It's a miracle," said Tagor Pandjaitan, who was sitting beside his son Pento when the Jakarta-bound Boeing 737-200 started shaking violently seconds after take-off on Monday, and then burst into flames.

    I was sure he was dead."

    The aircraft slammed into a residential neighbourhood just moments after take-off, killing 103 of the 117 people on board. Another 47 people died on the ground.

    The state news agency Antara quoted Raharjo as saying the plane only managed to get around six metres off the ground before it crashed.

    Transport Minister Hatta Rajasa said it would be several weeks before experts knew why the Mandala Airlines plane crashed 500 metres from the airport's runway, creating a path of destruction as it plowed into houses, cars, and pedestrians in Indonesia's third largest city, Medan.

    Black box recovered

    The plane's engines were discovered within the airport grounds, and Setyo Rahardjo, head of the National Transport Safety Committee, indicated on Wednesday that one of the fan blades - used to compress air that helps thrust the aircraft forward - may have been damaged.

    "Visually it looks like there was a problem, but we need to investigate further. We don't know yet if that happened before or after impact," he said as investigators sifted through the jetliner's charred wreckage.

    The flight data recorders have been found and will be sent to the United States for analysis as early as next week.

    A three-member team from the US National Transportation Safety Board will arrive in Medan on Thursday, Rahardjo said, to assist in the investigation.

    The dead included 99 passengers and crew, and 44 people on the ground, according to new figures released by Budi Sampurna, who is in charge of forensic examination.

    Victims being identified

    Hundreds of family members have spent the last two days at the Adam Malik Hospital morgue, looking for loved ones among a long row of charred bodies, many of them burned beyond recognition.

    "I was taken to the morgue in the hospital, but I said to them that my son is still alive, he has survived, I have faith in that. I'm thankful to God, I'm really thankful"

    Mother of 5 year old survivor, Pento

    Some women collapsed as they lifted the plastic yellow sheets in search of clues - a piece of clothing, jewelry, a familiar pair of shoes.

    But by Wednesday afternoon the remains of 34 people had not been identified.

    They were placed in coffins and loaded onto military trucks for burial 100 metres from the airport's runway - very close to another mass grave holding the remains of victims of a Garuda Indonesia plane crash that killed more than 200 in 1997.

    Mourners threw flowers into the grave. Then, bulldozers heaped mounds of dirt on the coffins.


    Among those who attended the ceremony was Mandala's
    acting president, Major General Hasril Hamzah Tanjung.

    "This accident was the will of God," he said as he expressed his condolences to relatives of the dead. "For that reason, we hope the families will be given the fortitude to face it."

    Mandala Airlines is a Jakarta-based domestic carrier founded in 1969 by a military-run foundation. In recent years, the financially troubled airline has been forced to cut services and fares to remain competitive.

    Only 18 people aboard the Jakarta-bound flight survived, including 5-year-old Pento, who's name was originally on an official list of the dead.

    Flames on the wing

    His father, Tagor, said he remembered feeling that something was wrong when the 24-year-old plane took off, rattling as it veered sharply to the left. He looked out the window and saw flames on the wing.

    The plane's engines were found
    within the airport grounds

    "I just held my son tight. I just held him," Tagor said weakly from his hospital bed. "But then flames shot into my face and I collapsed. When I woke up he was gone."

    Pento's mother, Maulina, refused to give up hope.

    She went from hospital to hospital, finding her son at Santa Elizabeth's 13 hours after the plane went down in a fiery ball.

    "I was taken to the morgue in the hospital, but I said to them that my son is still alive, he has survived, I have faith in that," Maulina said, stroking her child, who suffered only bruises and scratches.

    "I'm thankful to God, I'm really thankful."

    SOURCE: Agencies


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